Although their offensive statistics read like victory, the Federals lost not only a game to the Denver Gold, 24-12, but also a number of key players to injuries, including quarterback Mike Hohensee.
Hohensee left tonight's game halfway through the second period with a strained knee and is questionable for next Saturday's game against Arizona. Wide receiver Vince Kinney suffered an even more serious knee injury and may miss the rest of the season. A number of others, including receivers Joey Walters and Mike Harris, are also suffering from nagging injuries.
"We were hurting out there," Harris said. "We hurt real bad."
The loss was the Federals' 13th in 14 games and their 10th in a row.
"I'm not discouraged," said Federals Coach Ray Jauch. "Our guys kept battling out there. One of these days we're going to win one."
Craig James, who had his best game as a professional, gaining 90 yards on 21 carries, said, "I'm sore. I don't know what it was--a short week, jet lag, the altitude, whatever. We're beat."
Although Hohensee left the game when the outcome was still in doubt, backup Kim McQuilken could not be blamed for the loss. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 156 yards and the Federals outgained the Gold, 416 to 266.
"We moved the ball, but we just couldn't score," McQuilken said. "We knew Denver was one of the toughest defensive teams in the league and we were happy we were driving on them, but we needed to score more."
The Federals were trailing, 10-6, and had the ball midway through the final period. But substitute wide receiver Jeff Postell fumbled the ball over to the Gold on the Washington 16, and two plays later fullback Larry Canada scored on a five-yard run with 7:40 left to give Denver a 17-6 lead.
Mike Matocha recovered a punt in the end zone that Leroy Robinson had blocked with 1:49 left to make the score 17-12. One minute and eight seconds later, Canada scored again, this time on a 24-yard run, to ensure Denver its sixth win against eight losses.
"The middle was pretty open for me," said Canada, who gained 116 yards. "No big deal, not at all."
Craig Morton, who replaced Red Miller as coach, won his second straight game, and the Gold is now a half game behind Oakland and Los Angeles in the Pacific Division race. Morton threw papers in the air as he saw his receivers drop at least a dozen passes and said, "Do they allow stickum in this league? We'll get barrels of the stuff."
The Gold, the league's most successful franchise at the box office, sold 46,671 tickets to the game, although Mile High Stadium has no turnstiles and Denver officials have no way of counting actual attendance. Largely because of Denver's enthusiasm for USFL football, Commissioner Chet Simmons decided to award the league championship game, scheduled for July 17, to Mile High Stadium.
On the first play of the game, James fumbled a handoff and nose tackle Laval Short recovered for Denver on the Washington 39. Denver moved on the Federals, running between the tackles, and drove to the Washington two. The defensive line stiffened, though, and Brian Speelman kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Gold a 3-0 lead with 9:20 left to play in the first quarter.
Denver might have extended its lead by the close of the first quarter had wide receiver Johnnie Dirden not dropped a well-thrown deep pass from quarterback Fred Mortenson.
Just before the end of the quarter, Hohensee began to get his rhythm. Although he played with a heavily taped fractured finger, Harris caught two of Hohensee's passes for gains of 29 and 28 yards to help the Federals drive to the Gold's 12.
But two incompletions forced Washington to abandon hopes for a lead, and Sandro Vitiello converted a 24-yard field goal with 14:12 left in the second quarter for a 3-3 tie.
The Federals and the Gold exchanged lackluster drives. Then, with 7:40 left in the half, Hohensee injured his knee when he was tackled while trying to scramble out of the pocket.
"I think I heard something pop," Hohensee said. "I got hit when I was going down." He hobbled off the field with little aid, but he would not return to the game.
McQuilken had not played since Hohensee missed the Chicago game May 8 with an intestinal ailment. Hohensee missed five games earlier in the season with a fractured sternum. When he left the game tonight, he was four of seven for 77 yards.
Following Hohensee's injury, the Gold took off on a 71-yard drive led by running back Bo Matthews, who caught a 21-yard pass and ran for 19 yards on the drive. A pass interference call against Willie Holley set up Harry Sydney's two-yard touchdown run with 1:49 left in the half.
With the Federals trailing, 10-3, and with their starting quarterback in the dressing room with an injury, frustration began to show more openly than usual. A number of minor fights broke out as the half drew to a close and Federals tackle Jeff Sevy was ejected from the game.
In the third quarter, the Federals threatened to score touchdowns on two long drives but had to settle for Vitiello's 21-yard field goal with 10:26 left that made it 10-6.
The Gold started Mortenson at quarterback, but Craig Penrose played briefly in the second period and the entire second half. Penrose, a substitute with the Broncos from 1976-1979, was in the Arizona Wranglers' training camp but left voluntarily and has not played for two years.